An odd handshake took place earlier this week between Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon and Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan over the establishment of a task force charged with drawing up a Hangang River development plan.
This was odd, because Park’s position on the redevelopment of the Hangang River has been geared toward recovering the river’s natural state, while the government has stated its desire to develop the river as a tourist attraction. That goal is similar to the previous Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon’s “Hangang Renaissance” project, which was condemned by Park. In fact, a set of artificial floating islands on the river, originally planned to serve as a convention center, was allowed to stand idle for more than two years while Park criticized it as “grotesque.”
It is no secret that Park wants the Hangang River to return to the natural state it was in before the first major development of the river kicked off in 1980. Through the two-phase general development plan, the meandering river was straightened and dams were erected midstream to regulate the water level. Parks were created along both sides of the river as were major. High-rise apartments were built along the expressways. The annual flooding was also averted.
The city’s plan for the Hangang River released in April aims at the recovery of the natural state of the river. This would call for the dismantling of the concrete riverbanks and changes to the dams.
On the other hand, the government’s plan announced last month envisions the Hangang River as a tourist attraction. Choi said that the need to redevelop the Hangang River was his long-held conviction and that it holds a central role in promoting investment in the services sector.
The Ministry of Strategy and Finance has been asked to establish a general master plan for the Hangang River. The plan’s premise is that the Hangang River and the surrounding areas would be developed in an eco-friendly fashion to create a tourist destination. It envisions turning the floating islands and the Nodeul Island into tourist attractions, having more river cruise boats, and building shopping malls and cultural facilities as well as exhibition and performance spaces.
Park and Choi make odd bedfellows when it comes to the Hangang River. The task force for the river’s development should be allowed to draw up a plan that is consistent, not a hodgepodge of features of the currently two very different plans. The development of the Hangang River should be a far-sighted one, with its impact on future generations taken into consideration.